If you’re tired of getting jerked around by streaming services, Plex may be your saving grace. The free Plex service lets you build a streaming platform based on your personal collection of movies, shows, and music. But if you want to take things to the next level, a Plex Pass subscription is a must.
Unlike Netflix or Hulu, which are streaming services, Plex is a media server platform. You provide the hardware and content for Plex, and it gives you a nice interface that automatically organizes and labels everything.
A free Plex membership lets you stream content from your media server to any device in your home. It’s totally ad-free, and each member of your household can set up a personal profile on your Plex server.
That said, you’ll run into some restrictions when using Plex for free. A Plex Pass membership is required if you want to stream media outside of your home. Also, without Plex Pass, the Plex mobile app costs $5 per device. (To be clear, the Plex app is free on smart TVs.)
Some Plex users are perfectly happy with a free membership. But really, the benefits of Plex Pass are hard to ignore. A Plex Pass subscription lets you stream media from your server to devices outside your home, including those owned by friends and family. Plex Pass truly turns your Plex Media Server into a personal streaming service.
Additionally, Plex Pass gives you some awesome quality-of-life features. It lets you skip intros in TV shows, save videos or music for offline enjoyment, or even set content restrictions for children.
Here are all the features included in Plex Pass:
- Remote Streaming: A Plex Pass subscription is required for remote streaming.
- Hardware Transcoding: Take advantage of your server’s hardware to natively transcode video.
- Free Mobile Apps: Plex usually charges money for its mobile apps. But with Plex Pass, these apps are free.
- Offline Downloads: Save media to a device for offline viewing or listening.
- Content Restrictions: Keep your kids from seeing inappropriate content on Plex.
- Watch and Record Live TV: Plug an OTA receiver into your Plex Media Server to stream and save live broadcasts.
- Skip Intros: Plex Pass gives you the option to skip TV show intros.
- Trailers and Extras: Your Plex server will automatically find trailers and extra clips to accompany movies.
- Multiple Movie Cuts: Keep multiple cuts of the same movie, such as the theatrical and director’s cuts of Alien.
- HDR Tone Mapping: Boost the visual quality of content for your HDR-enabled display.
- Early Access and Betas: Unlock new features before they’re available to free users, or test beta versions of the Plex Media Server app.
- Music Features: Unlock the Plexamp player, automatic song lyrics, additional music controls, offline listening, and an optional Tidal discount.
We should also highlight hardware transcoding, which may be the most important Plex Pass feature. Plex uses transcoding to reduce a movie’s resolution or change its file type—this is necessary when you have a poor internet connection, or when your smart TV isn’t compatible with a certain video file.
For free users, Plex offers something called software transcoding. But software transcoding is too demanding, and it can bring your Plex media server to a standstill. Hardware transcoding is much easier on your server, ensuring fewer interruptions (or zero interruptions) when transcoding is necessary.
Of course, Plex isn’t just for movies and TV shows. It doubles as a personal music streaming platform. And with a Plex Pass membership, you can ditch Spotify or Apple Music in favor of your own high-quality music files.
A free Plex account lets you manage and play music from your server. Plex supports most music file types, including lossless formats like FLAC. And, of course, you can stream your music library from the Plex app or web player.
But for a more dedicated music experience, you’ll probably want a Plex Pass membership. It unlocks several music-oriented features, most notably the Plexamp music player.
Plexamp is a dedicated music streaming app for your Plex media server. Its interface is similar to that of Spotify or Apple Music, though it offers a customizable UI, visualizers, and other cool features. Of course, you can download music from Plexamp for offline listening, or even share the service with friends and family.
And oddly enough, Plexamp can stream music directly from Tidal. It’s like mixing a “real” streaming service with your personal library—Plex Pass even includes a discount code for a Tidal membership. (This Tidal stuff isn’t forced on you, by the way. Most Plex users don’t even know about it.)
A Plex Pass subscription also gives you detailed music controls, including loudness settings and fading options. Plus, it lets you see song lyrics, which are automatically fetched from lyric websites.
Pricing for Plex Pass is incredibly competitive, especially when compared to traditional streaming services like Netflix or HBO Max. It costs just $5 a month, and budget-minded shoppers can save big with an annual or lifetime membership.
- Monthly Plan: $5 a month ($60 a year)
- Annual Plan: $40 a year
- Lifetime Plan: $120 one-time fee
The Plex Pass lifetime membership is an especially good deal. It pays for itself after just two years, and it never needs to be renewed.
Notably, Plex offers a huge discount on its lifetime membership every few months. You can score a lifetime Plex Pass for just $65 during these sales, which tend to occur during the spring and fall.
Some people are happy to use Plex for free. But most users end up paying for Plex Pass at some point, whether it’s to unlock remote streaming, offline viewing, or the Plexamp music player. At just $5 a month, Plex Pass is absolutely worth the money.
That said, those who are new to Plex should test the free membership for a while. Doing so will help you get familiar with the platform. Plus, if you learn that Plex doesn’t suit your needs, you can walk away knowing that you didn’t spend a dime.
Once you get a good feel for Plex, you should consider signing up for Plex Pass. It’s an affordable subscription that takes your media server to the next level. And hey, nobody’s forcing you to buy the lifetime plan—some people sign up for Plex Pass to take their media on vacation and cancel the service after one month.